Photo: Ron Cantrell

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dome of the Rock - A Hijacked Church?

Muhammad’s hijacking of a Messiah from Jews and Christians seems not the only item hijacked by Islam.

Three years ago, I wrote the book, The Mahdi – Hijacked Messiah, to document Islam’s stealing of a Messiah concept by Muhammad.

Now, my participation on one of Israel’s most interesting archaeological excavations has revealed another major hostage taking by Islam.

Ramat Rachael’s archaeological area, where I’m working this August, takes in the ruins of an interesting church that sits right on the Road of the Patriarchs (now known as Hebron Road). The Kathisma Church is an octagonal structure, built in 456 A.D., which shape is unusual for a church as most are built in the shape of a cross. Sitting square in the center of the church’s octagonal perimeter is an outcropping of solid bedrock some 20 ft. square and several feet high.

The Kathisma Church is where tradition has it that on route to Bethlehem, Mary’s labor pains caused the couple to rest under the shade of a date palm. Joseph is unable to reach the ripe fruit so attractive to Mary, so the tree lowers its fruit to nourish the mother-to-be, and a spring issues forth from under the tree to save their lives in the desert.

Whether one believes the tradition about the church is immaterial. The fact that the tradition predates the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem is the point. The church has a mosaic floor commemorating the story with a date palm flanked by two smaller palms (either symbolizing Joseph and Mary, or the other two crosses on Calvary).

The hijacking of this church’s structure and symbolism is eye-opening. The Dome of the Rock which sits on the Temple Mount is built in the same architectural design, including the bedrock outcropping in the center and an identical date palm mosaic adorns the inside of the dome. As in the church, the date palm is flanked by two other palms. The date of the dome’s construction is 691 A.D., over 200 years later.

The early date of the church and the mosaic are confirmed by Israel’s Antiquities Authority after excavation in 1992. The widening of Hebron Road revealed the church and the dating of the structure brought new and puzzling comparisons to the Islamic structure on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Ron Cantrell

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Cheers signal a "New Find"

Each day Kibbutz Ramat Rachel Archaeological excavation has delivered up new treasures for those of us digging there. Bad attitudes due to the “way too early” hour for beginning the dig fades as the first cheer of the day goes up from one of the dig areas. Each cheer means that at breakfast, news of the find that caused the cheer will be shared with all.

Digging begins at 5:30 am. Breakfast break is 9:00 am.
Though the Kibbutz and surrounding area now are known as Ramat Rachel, Jeremiah 41:17 reveals the name as "Chimham" near Bethlehem.

"And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt" (Jeremiah 41:17).

II Kings refers to the area as the "garden of Uzza:"

"And Manasseh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza: and Amon his son reigned in his stead."
vs 26 "And he was buried in his sepulchre in the garden of Uzza; and Josiah
his son reigned in his stead" (II Kings 21:18).

Cheers from the last two days (week two of four) have been from three special yields.

1) A seal impression on pot handle resembling something between an "M" and an "X."

2). A crude ram’s head who’s purpose is yet to be decided by the archaeologists,

3) A great Byzantine oil lamp with a very clear Greek inscription.

This site will become a top tourist attraction as they are now adding walk ways and information signs in order to make a visit to the area a memorable learning experience.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Digging through the Bible

It has to be one of my favorite slices of Israel. On the south hill of Jerusalem, almost exactly between Jerusalem and Bethlehem lies a most interesting archaeological site, yet it is rarely visited by tourists.

I have been digging with the Tel Aviv University this week on their 2007 season. The hill’s height provides a 360 degree view of the saddle in the mountain ridge in which Jerusalem rests.

After a 40-year break in archaeological digging at Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, the Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with Heidelberg University in Germany, is renewing exploration at the site. The work has continued exposing remnants of a king’s palace from the First Temple period and the hidden layers of 7th and 8th century B.C.E. In addition, it has explored the stratigraphic continuity of layers from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Abyssid periods.

One of my wild imaginations includes King Nebuchadnezzar and the possibility of his presence on this hill. The site may in fact have been an administration center for Babylon’s conquering hoards. Nebuchadnezzar came here to Israel three times. On his first visit, news arrived that Nabopolasar, his father, lay dying. He and a handful of his soldiers cut across from Lachish to Babylon rather than follow the Euphrates River back as was normal. The burning desert between Israel and Babylon could not support the needs of an army, but a few men with a guide could make the trip quickly.

Almost daily a cheer arises from one of the half dozen teams as they unearth a jar handle marked with a “lmlk” seal. “Le Melek” is the designation meaning for “For the King.” These special jars were taxation vessels and their contents were destined for the palace of the reigning king. These seals come in varying designs depending upon the period of their stamping.

Probably one of the most interesting finds this week is a top section of a Greek oil lamp bearing an acronym standing for “Jesus illuminates all men,” (photo above).
Each day uncovers new finds and each one seems more exciting than the day before. I’m thankful for the weekend break, but already day dreaming of the next find.

For a "Who's Who" of the archaeological excavation see this site:'s%20who.htm